With growth and post-recession prosperity in the global maritime industry, the proclivity towards real-time solutions and operations is moving forward at a breakneck pace. Increasingly, major maritime segments are realising the importance of sea-to-shore communications. As a result, offshore connectivity has become a pivotal solution to costly remoteness and a lack of central supervision at sea.
To complement the contributions made by Virgil Labrador in his analysis of the Maritime Satellite Market, it is apposite to go back to the basics and outline five essential reasons why offshore connectivity is a strategic necessity for success.
Firstly, efficiencies play a role since many service providers have long offered a bridge to information flows between offshore and office locations. For instance, connected merchant vessels can allow for operational, maintenance, and emergency reports on a virtual platform. Similarly, oil production and exploration companies are constantly battling against the actual adversities of expanding their operations in deeper waters further away from shore and beyond the reach of terrestrial communications facilities.
Satellite connectivity provides a seamless use of Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA), as well as real-time transmission of drilling data and asset monitoring to headquarters. High Throughput Satellite (HTS) communications enable vessels to transmit data back to headquarters, which, in return, provides competitive advantages during the decision-making process, stakeholder management, and e-training (ECDIS) resources.
Another reason is coverage control developed throughout the global maritime sector. Improvements of service coverage and bandwidth capacity are demanded not only for the application of route planning, asset diagnostics, and weather applications, but also for infotainment. Service quality is at stake when multiple users aboard are using bandwidth for non-business purposes. Two examples of innovative solutions comprise web compression to improve data speed and bandwidth utilisation, and captive portal services to accommodate access and prioritise applications.
Owing to the advanced mobility and spatial range of vessels across the ocean, maritime industries are constantly coping with vast collections of data and superior means of connectivity-atlas development at seaports, near ports, and deep water. Over the years, service providers, such as Harris CapRock, have applied full integration of 24/7 customer connectivity and personalised experience through Automatic Beam Switching (ABS), whilst Datasat Communications provides professional integration of different communication networks into a hybrid system for major satellite, wireless, and fibre functionalities.
Effective data management is also another reason offshore connectivity increases productivity at remote areas. Large amounts of collected data have grown massively over the years, to the point that service providers are facilitating customers with superior extraction and conversion of this data. Through careful standardisation, consumable information can be distributed to many different users – even those who differ on data requirements, objectives, and locations – in a timely manner.
Interestingly, the management of data also conducts customers to consider firewall filtering and privacy to combat software intromissions from other non-authorised intruders. Many VSAT solutions, for example, enables users to maximise bandwidth through the use of filtering and traffic shaping solutions to guarantee secure utilisation of data and confidentiality.
Adhering to the revolution of technology and communications in today’s highly connected world, smart devices bring a newly added reason for offshore connectivity in the maritime sector. The use of smart gadgets and W-iFi hotspots are also acting as a complementary form of transferring data with satisfactory improvements of reliability, coverage, and capacity. In hostile environments, for example, crews on oil platforms and rigs, are expecting same levels of connectivity at remote locations as they get when they stay ashore.
As Hans Vestberg, President and CEO of Ericsson, remarked when his firm announced a partnership with Maersk Line Operations in 2012, “We’re proud to be able to connect Maersk Line’s fleet with our technology. We believe in a Networked Society, where connectivity will only be the starting point for new ways of innovating, collaborating and socializing. The result will be automated and simplified processes, higher productivity, real-time information allowing quicker, more informed decision making and problem solving.”
Finally, crew welfare is one of the most important reasons offshore connectivity is not merely a strategic trend in the maritime sector. Precisely, The 2015 Crew Connectivity Survey, undertaken by Futurenautics Research, supplied important figures to the inclusion of crew morale as a core business value. At recruitment, 73% of respondents said that the level of crew communications services provided onboard did influence their decision about which shipping company they work for.
The Maritime Labour Convention, which went into effect in August 2013 and includes guidelines on how consideration should be given to include “reasonable access to ship-to-shore telephone communications, and email and Internet facilities”, has undoubtedly played a role in ship-owners placing a greater emphasis on improving crew welfare.
Likewise, there has been profound a shift from safety and security training to career opportunities onboard. Crews of all ranks are taking on training as a reflection of their career goals and not just simple compliance. In the near future, people will be demanding huge efforts to the provision of a learning path that guarantees communication, stress reduction, and field expertise onboard.
In many respects, maritime communications are providing companies the power to deliver the bandwidth for operational success, crew happiness, coverage control, data management, and smart device connectivity, all at the same time. The question is whether network innovations will drive the maritime sector to a new favourable need of infrastructure, coverage and capacity that helps global communications to keep everyone connected.